Milind, that was the name of the indie who was constantly parked outside the surgery ward, while I was doing my post graduation. He was always there, every morning, right up till I finished work. He barely ever moved. If he did it was to walk about 10 meters and sit down again, his typical waddle that came from having to carry so much body weight. Milind was brown and white and morbidly obese. A few steps in any direction would leave him panting with the effort and he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to anything that went on around him. He wasn’t like the other college dogs, who would sprint and play and nip at my heels. Milind would just be laying and staring, perhaps grudging the others their ability to move.
Reading about Deepika, who was in news last week for undergoing sleeve gastrectomy, a type of bariatric surgery, reminded me of Milind.
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Obesity is a pandemic that has gripped pets just like it has humans and humans are at the root of it. We find it difficult to say no to those cute puppy eyes and more often than not, we believe that constantly feeding our pet is the only way to show our undying affection for them. We forget that our pets are meant to be anywhere between one-tenth to half of our size and so meal portions must be similarly fed. We want them to have the best and we think that feeding them table scraps or junk food or too many treats is a way into their hearts.
I once had a pet parent who would feed her retriever an entire pack of sliced bread every single morning. A feat even a human will not be able to achieve. The dog ate to please the owner and finally was on my consulting table because he was 30 kg overweight and unable to breathe.
Obesity brings with it a whole host of problems ranging from inability to walk, like Milind, which is an early onset of arthritis to life threatening conditions such as diabetes. Obesity can be a death sentence in flat faced breeds such as pugs, which already have a compromised respiratory tract. The lifestyle diseases that humans brought upon themselves, we’re now passing it on to our pets. In such a situation, while humans have found the solution in bariatric surgery, is that an option for obese pets as well?
Dr S.D. Tripathi, assistant professor, department of surgery and radiology, Mumbai Veterinary College, is one of handful vets who perform bariatric surgery on obese pets. An expert in the field, he explains that the surgical procedure helps decrease the size of the stomach. The stomach is sutured in a way as to reduce its volume. Therefore, it fills up with smaller quantities of food and reinstalls the feeling of satiety that is necessary to prevent overeating. However, bariatric surgery is advisable only after all other attempts at weight loss have been exhausted, he cautions.
Pets can also become obese as a consequence of hormonal imbalances. Their diet and exercise must be addressed first. Nutritional management is the first step at weight loss. If hormonal imbalances are a cause of obesity, those must be diagnosed and treated and if all else fails at weight management, bariatric surgery could be considered as an option for such pets. Bariatric surgery like all other surgeries involves post operative care and pet parents have to be well aware of this fact.
“Pet parent compliance is of utmost importance in helping their pet lose weight,” Dr Tripathi emphasizes. Even surgery's success is determined by the discipline exercised by the pet parents in feeding their pets post surgery. Lack of restrain by the pet parents can cause a relapse and the pet may put on weight despite the surgery.
I am reminded of Milind, his baleful eyes and his crippling obesity often, especially when I talk to pet parents whose pets have put on a few extra, harmful kilos. While bariatric surgery is an option, the old adage, ‘prevention is better than cure’ still holds true.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.